The Reverend Al Sharpton singled out five Black Memphis police officers who have been indicted for their roles in the killing of Tyre Nichols in the eulogy that he delivered for Tyre Nichols on Wednesday.
Sharpton drew a connection between the legacy of the slain civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. and the murder of Nichols by noting that the alleged crimes took place not far from the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while waging a protest campaign to try to ensure the safety of Black workers in the city. This campaign was trying to ensure the safety of Black workers in the city.
Sharpton said in his address to Nichols’ stepfather and stepmother, “The reason why, Mr. and Mrs. Wells [Nichols’s stepfather and mother], what happened to Tyre is so personal to me is that five Black men that wouldn’t have had a job in the police department, would not ever be thought of to be in an elite squad in the city that Dr. King lost his life, not far away from that balcony, you beat a brother to death,”
“There’s nothing more insulting and offensive to those of us that fight to open doors that you walk through those doors and act like the folks we had to fight for to get you through them doors,”
“You didn’t get on the police department by yourself. The police chief didn’t get there by herself. People had to march and go to jail, and some lost their lives to open the doors for you, and how dare you act like that sacrifice was for nothing!”
Given that Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr., the officers indicted for second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and two charges of aggravated kidnapping, are all Black, Sharpton’s comments come at a time when there is a debate about whether the killing of Nichols should be seen as another example of racism against Black Americans.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said on Tuesday “Democrat-controlled and the five officers that have been arrested and charged are Black. And I think that this isn’t an issue of racism or anything like that.”
Sharpton’s speech, on the other hand, focused on the officers’ actions and put them in the bigger picture of race relations in the United States.
“The tape speaks for itself. They never asked this man for his license. Never asked for the car registration. Snatched him out of the car and began beating him,”
“Nobody mentioned nothing about no girlfriend. Nobody mentioned nothing about — they started beating an unarmed man.”
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“In the city that they slayed the dreamer,” he continued, “what has happened to the dream? In the city where the dreamer lay down and shed his blood, you have the unmitigated gall to beat your brother, chase him down and beat him some more, call for backup and they take 20 minutes, and you watch him and you are too busy talking among each other, no empathy, no concern.”
As with the protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, many people in the U.S. have asked that Nichols’s death lead to big changes in the way police work across the country. Sharpton seems to want the same thing, but he was careful to point out how the officers who have been charged acted.
“We understand that there are concerns about public safety. We understand that there are needs to deal with crime, but you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself. You don’t stand up to thugs in the street [by] becoming thugs yourself. You don’t fight gangs by becoming five armed men against an unarmed man. That ain’t the police, that’s punks.”